Adult cat lying down

The common wisdom used to be that we didn't "own" cats. We fed them, admired their beauty, and enjoyed their company. We let them in and out of our homes with a degree of good humor, and we grieved for them after they left us, sometimes without ever really knowing what happened to them. Well, if cats could talk, they would make clear that nobody "owns" them, but they would begrudgingly admit that they love being cared for. And that's especially true (and a necessity) for older cats.

The popularity of cats has led to an explosion in knowledge of how to care for them at all stages of their lives, and geriatric care is no exception. Barring accidents, cats can live healthier, happier lives years longer than they ever have before — 10, 12, 14 years. Protected from the outside world, cats can live even longer, with 16, 18 and even 20 years — or more — a possibility.

But longer, happier lives do require effort on the part of cat owners. Sadly, study after study shows that cats aren't seeing that effort: Pet owners dedicate more time and money into keeping their dogs healthy than their cats.

You love your older cat, right? So change that. Why throw away good years you could share? The place to start: a visit to your veterinarian.

Regular physicals — for geriatrics, at least twice a year is best — are even more important as your cat ages. These need to be more extensive than when your cat was younger: Your veterinarian may suggest blood and urine tests, for example, to determine what's normal for your cat so that subsequent changes in the test values are more apparent.

Work with your veterinarian to address chronic health issues, or problems that can lead to them. Key among them: Don't let your cat be fat. Obesity shortens a cat's life and makes the time they have less enjoyable.

You'll need a plan, though, because you can't starve a cat thin without risking serious health problems. So talk to your veterinarian and take it slowly.

Once you and your veterinarian have addressed all the health problems, you'll want to keep your cat active and comfortable.

Play is important, even to older cats, but especially to indoor ones. You don't have to spend a lot of money on toys to come up with ways to keep your cat busy. Cats can chase, hide, climb and explore with an endless variety of toys, many of them recycled household objects. Keep your older cat active, but avoid the flying leaps of youth. Shoot for low-impact play more often.

You'll also want to make rest easier. Your cat may have problems getting up on to high beds or cat trees, so make sure there are plenty of low-level spaces for your cat to enjoy a good nap. Make litter boxes easier to get to as well, perhaps by adding them on every floor, even if your cat has been used to using stairs over the years.

The bottom line: Look at your aging cat in a new way, and do what it takes to accommodate the changes brought on by aging, with the help of your veterinarian.

You and your cat will both be happier for it!